State Literary Awards 2017 winner ‘Mute Squalls’: Sorrow, in a new light | Sunday Observer

State Literary Awards 2017 winner ‘Mute Squalls’: Sorrow, in a new light

Niranjali Motha  Pic: Susantha Wijeygunasekara
Niranjali Motha Pic: Susantha Wijeygunasekara

Her very first publication ‘Mute Squalls’ a collection of short stories was selected the ‘Best Collection of Short Stories’ published in 2016, at the State Literary Awards 2017. Having published a few of her stories in the Sunday Observer, Niranjali Motha shares her joy and experiences, her writing and future literary plans in an interview with the Sunday Observer.

Betrayed… Abandoned… Rejected… Her heart screamed. Questions raced in her mind. On an emotional roller-coaster - spinning from loneliness to anger to self pity, helplessness and back to loneliness, in a vicious circle – never ending. “Even if I fall dead on the road, no one would know me,” she thought…

‘The Syllable’, “is the closest to me,” says Niranjali Motha, “not the story, but what it depicts.” A betrayed lover is how she had felt after the sudden death of her husband. A lot of people around her looked at her surroundings and possessions. But, “only a handful was concerned about how I felt. Even then, my innermost self, I felt no one could understand.”

‘Mute Squalls’, her collection of short stories was the result of her efforts to console and remind herself that she was blessed. “I turned into documenting my experience of the lives of other people, whom I had come across.”

Positive and confident, she stands tall, smiling. ‘Mute Squalls’ the collection of short stories she penned, as she describes “based on real life encounters and sharing… of many individuals mingled with my thoughts and emotions,” won the Best Collection of Short Stories category at the State Literary Awards last year.

A jubilant Niranjali relates how it came as a total surprise. Though it was exceptional for the organisers to invite her to the ceremony through a telephone call, send an invitation by courier informing that she is a nominee for the award, and confirm her receipt of the invite through a personal visit, “It never occurred to me that I could be a winner. I thought, the Sri Lankan public sector had improved their standards so well and was happy about it,” she comments. She attended the ceremony accompanied by a friend. However, “at the last moment, just before they announced my name I sensed that I could be the winner,” she recalls.

What she wanted to depict through her stories was “the pain in the lives of those individuals, the hidden side of human suffering in extremely difficult circumstances” comments Niranjali. Though sorrow is the main emotion contained in these stories, “they are not gloomy and sad. There’s positivity in all.” Moreover, she tried to bring up a few issues ‘marginalised or hushed’ by the society, she comments. Ethnic and religious tolerance; infidelity and HIV/AIDS; sexual exploitation, sexual bribery, war and its effects and disability are some of the issues she portrays through her writing.

Her creativity streak appeared early in life, “as a young girl, I was penning stories and poetry,” she reveals. “I was putting my writing skills to good work at World Vision,” she speaks of her former workplace. That’s where she had honed her writing skills in the English language. However, delving herself into serious creative writing had started, “as a therapeutic measure, only after the passing away of my husband in January 2016.”

Born the second child to Tamil parents, she studied in the Sinhala medium at a conservative Buddhist school in Colombo. “My parents were quite liberal. They never inculcated ethnic barriers in the minds of us, children. They wanted us to be fluent in all three languages, so that we could communicate with everyone.” After her studies, her choice of work was World Vision, a humanitarian agency, says Niranjali. She still remembers her mother’s advice “If you can’t shed a genuine tear for a person in distress, don’t get into social work, that’s what she told me,” she reminisces. She is thankful to all her mentors for her success. She is also grateful to family, her in-laws and close friends who encouraged her pursuit, and especially, to the Sunday Observer. “It was the Sunday Observer’s publishing of my very first short story that encouraged me to write more. I thought OK, if they selected it for publishing, then I must have done well and continued with my writing,” she laughs.

Would we see more of her works in the future? “Yes” is her prompt reply. Though busy with her consultancies, now that writing has become a main part of her, she is working on the next set of short stories.“It could also be a book of poems, I’ve been writing a few.” We wish her the very best in all her future literary pursuits.